• Exposed: Top Four Uses Of The Music Clock

    in Beginners,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    You arrived at this page because you’re interested in exploring the uses of the music clock.

    Attention: If you’ve not come across the term music clock before now, or you have a little idea but would need to refresh your mind on it, you’re still on the right page. We’re starting out in the next segment with a quick review on the music clock.

    Although there are so many theoretical and practical uses of the music clock, but if you give me your undivided attention, I’ll be exposing you to the top four uses of the music clock in the next seven minutes or so.

    A Quick Review On The Music Clock

    There are twelve music notes:

    Indeed, there are more than twelve ways to spell these notes, but there are twelve different pitches within the compass of an octave.

    The geometric representation of these twelve notes using a circle produces the music clock; which has twelve different points just like the regular wall clock.

    Check out the music clock:

    On the 12 o’clock position is C, on the 3 o’clock position is A, on the 6 o’clock position is Gb/F#, and on the 9 o’clock position is Eb.

    Attention: For now, focus on the outer and bolder notes (with C at the 12 o’clock position) and not the inner notes (with Am [A minor] at the 12 o’clock position.

    The Distance Between Successive Notes On The Music Clock

    The distance between the notes in the music clock can either be a fourth or fifth interval and this depends on the direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise).

    In the clockwise direction, from C (at the 12 0’clock position) to G, or G to D is a fifth, while in the counter-clockwise direction, from C to F, or F to Bb is a fourth.

    Submission: For music scholars who understand the relationship between fourth and fifth intervals, the distance between the successive notes of the music clock can either be a fourth or fifth interval irrespective of the direction.

    Due to the relationship between fourth and fifth intervals, the music clock is referred to as:

    1. The circle of fourths

    2. The circle of fifths


    Now that we’ve refreshed our minds on the music clock, let’s proceed to learning the top four uses of the music clock.

    Top Four Uses Of The Music Clock

    There are top four uses of the music clock — from key signature, to relative keys, to related keys, to chord progressions — and I’ll be sharing them with you in no particular order.

    #1 – Relative Keys

    Relative keys are minor keys that have the same notes with a particular major key.

    For example, the key of C major and the A minor (C and Am) are on the same position (the 12 o’clock position) on the music clock because they share the same notes in common.

    Check both keys out:

    C major:

    A minor:

    Both keys have exactly the same notes. However, while C major is ordered from C to C, A minor is ordered from A to A.

    Using the music clock:

    the relative minor key of any given major key (or vice-versa) can be determined. The relative minor key of Ab major (at the 8 o’clock position) is the key of F minor:

    Ab major:

    F minor:

    Let’s proceed by learning about related keys.

    #2 – Related Keys

    There are keys of first and second relationship and they are known as related keys. The music clock can be used to determine keys of first relationship:

    Keys of first relationship are the major keys that are a fifth above and below a given major key and their relative minor keys.

    The key of C major has two adjacent keys in the music clock:

    …F is to the left and G is to the right.

    So, C, F, and G major then their relative minor keys which are A minor, D minor and E minor respectively are the keys of first relationship to the key of C major.

    If you’re given E major (which is at the 4 o’clock position), you can determine its related keys by determining adjacent keys and their relative minor keys.

    In the case of E major, A is to the left and B is to the right. So, the key of E, A, and B major and their relative minor keys (which are C# minor, F# minor and G# minor respectively) are the keys of first relationship to the key of E major.

    #3 – Chord Progressions

    In traditional harmony, the strongest root (and chord) progressions move in fifth (which are also fourth) intervals.

    Progressions that move in fifth (which are also fourth) intervals are classified as circular progressions and are specifically said to follow the circle of fourths or circle of fifths.

    The music clock is a perfect reference for circular progressions:

    Starting from B (at the 5 o’clock position), we make a circular root (or chord progression) in the key of C major in the counter-clockwise direction:

    From B to E

    From E to A

    From A to D

    From D to G

    …then from G to C (the first tone in the key).

    #4 – Key Signature

    In the concept of key-signature, a key is distinguished by the total number of sharps or flats it has. The music clock:

    …can also be used as a reference to determine the key-signature of the various keys in tonal music.

    The key of C major (at the 12 o’clock position) has no sharp or flat. Of course, the key of C major:

    …consists of all white notes on the keyboard.

    The first six keys in the clockwise direction are known as the “sharp keys” and they have the following key-signatures:

    G has one sharp

    D has two sharps

    A has three sharps

    E has four sharps

    B has five sharps

    F# has six sharps

    You can tell that B major has 5 sharps, can you? Well, I can tell because it’s on the 5 o’clock position on the music clock.

    Going the counter-clockwise direction are the “flat keys” are they are as follows:

    F has one flat

    Bb has two flats

    Eb has three flats

    Ab has four flats

    Db has five flats

    Gb has six flats

    We’ll delve deeper into the concept of key-signature in a subsequent post.

    Final Words

    In subsequent lessons, I’ll be giving you more detailed insights on how the music clock can be used to know more about each of these concepts covered: chord progression, relative keys, key signature, and related keys.

    Meanwhile, feel free to drop your comments, questions, and contributions in the comment section.

    See you in the next lesson.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Carolyn

    Thanks for sharing. Great information. God bless you.


    2 Charles

    Thanks for the wonderful work you are doing, I have benefited greatly that is why I could notice one error in this write up. E major has 4 sharps not 5 like mistakingly stated. Keep the good work going. You are blessed.


    3 Chuku Onyemachi

    Thank you Charles for pointing that out.

    I actually meant B major and the correction has been effected.

    Thanks again.


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